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Noel BAULDEWEYN (c1480 - ?): "Masses"

Beauty Farm

rec: June 2017, Kartause Mauerbach (A)
fra bernardo - FB 1709761 (2 CDs) (© 2017) (1.56'25")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Missa En douleur en tristesse a 5; Missa Inviolata integra et casta es a 5; Missa Myn liefkens bruyn ooghen a 4; Missa sine nomine a 6a

Bart Uvyn, Kaspar Kröner, altoa; Florian Schmitt, Jon Etxabe Arzuaga, tenor; Arnout Lems, baritone; Joachim Höchbauer, bass

Even those, who have a special interest in renaissance polyphony, may never have heard the name of Noel Bauldeweyn. If they have, they probably have never heard any music from his pen, as his name seldom appears in concert programmes or on disc. The present set of two discs may be the first production ever entirely devoted to his oeuvre. Little is known about him; the rear inlay gives "c1530" as the year of his death, but according to New Grove this refers to a different person.

The only established fact about his career is that he was magister cantorum of St Rombouts church in Mechelen in the southern Netherlands; in this position he succeeded Jean Richafort. This was quite a prestigious post; the chapel of the Burgundian court under Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, often used it. Bauldeweyn's presence means that he must have known Pierre de La Rue, who at the same time was in the service of Margaret. According to Wolfgang Fuhrmann, in his liner-notes, there are stylistic similarities between Bauldeweyn's oeuvre and that of La Rue.

Very few of Bauldeweyn's compositions were printed. This was probably due to the fact that he only worked north of the Alps, whereas the music-printing industry was dominated by Italians. Only four motets were included in an anthology published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1519. However, many of his works found a wide dissemination in manuscript, which indicates that he was held in high esteem. The fact that a number of them were included in the choirbooks put together in Petrus Alamire's atelier further testifies to that.

His oeuvre includes seven masses, a number of motets and a chanson; the latter is the basis of one of his masses included here. Features of Bauldeweyn's masses are the frequent use of the canon technique, a density of counterpoint and a limited writing for reduced forces, a preference for low voices as well as thematic repetition.

The Missa En douleur en tristesse for five voices is based on Bauldeweyn's own 5-part chanson. In one source the latter also appears with a German text; both are derived from an original Dutch song which has been preserved in many polyphonic arrangements. Bauldeweyn uses the material from the chanson in all the voices. Its opening motive can be heard at the beginning of each section of the mass. The application of the canon technique sometimes results in an antiphonal structure, in which the voice groups get involved in a kind of dialogue.

The Missa Inviolata integra et casta es, again for five voices, takes the Marian sequence as its cantus firmus. It comprises twelve verses and Bauldeweyn uses them all; the first verse opens every section of the mass. In music of the renaissance the depiction of the text is very rare, and therefore the ascending and descending figures in the Credo, on the texts "ascendit in coelum" and "descendit de caelis" respectively is remarkable.

The Missa Myn liefkens bruyn ooghen is scored for four voices and is based on Dutch song, or rather three polyphonic versions of it; all three are quoted during the mass. Two of them are combined in "Qui venit". In the Agnus Dei II and III uses the song in a rhythmically uniform version of his own.

The Missa sine nomine is one of two masses for six voices in Bauldeweyn's oeuvre; it is also one of the first six-part masses in history. Like in the Missa En douleur en tristesse the use of canons leads to an antiphonal structure, especially in the two Agnus sections. The second Agnus appears in only one source and prescribes the text "miserere nobis" twice; this has been replace here by the text "dona nobis pacem". I wonder why that decision was taken; if I remember correctly there are more masses without this text. What is notable about this mass is that the earliest source adds names to the six voices, referring to the traditional seven ages of man. Obviously one of them is missing, as this mass is for six voices. 'Youth' (juventus) is omitted, and Fuhrmann suggests that this could indicate that the mass was written at the occasion of a death of a person in his youth. This may be supported by the inscription in the alto part of the final Agnus Dei: "Infancia fugit" (Infancy flees). Moreover, the mass is written in the Phrygian mode, "traditionally associated with pain, death and mourning". The writing for the low voices results in a rather dark sound.

There is every reason to conclude that Bauldeweyn is more than just a voice in the crowd. It is surprising that his oeuvre has received so little attention. Beauty Farm deserves praise for recording four of his masses. It was founded in 2014, probably as a replacement of The Sound and the Fury, which also recorded exclusively for fra bernardo. I was quite critical about their recordings, because of a lack of ensemble and too close a miking. I also didn't like some of the voices. That is very different here: the ensemble is excellent, also thanks to a more comfortable way of recording, and the voices blend perfectly. The immaculate legato from all the singers results in a nice flow of the polyphony. The fine singing of the lower voices gives full weight to the sonority Bauldeweyn undoubtedly intended.

This is a set lovers of renaissance polyphony should not miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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